Three Faith Films–And What They Fail to Say about Faith

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They’ve been calling 2014 the Year of the Faith Film. I know that in the evangelical community I tend to find myself thrust into, people were pumped about that. Perhaps Hollywood was waking up from its superhero love fest and rediscovering that the Good Book has its own caped crusaders (well, toga-ed, or whatever it is that they wore—you get the point) that can teach us about life.

So far, I’m not sure the Year of the Faith Film is delivering on its promise. And I wonder what that says about our understanding of what faith really is.

Three of those films have hit the cineplexes in recent weeks. I haven’t seen any of them. I’m not sure I would ever want to.

Noah has been called by its director “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” and at achieving this he seems to have succeeded, pulling from just about any ancient text outside the Bible that even hints at a flood narrative. He then offers us a man of “faith” whose righteousness appears to derive from despising anything that isn’t a fuzzy bunny, himself included. Rather than the LSD Methuselah slipped into Noah’s tea, Prozac may have been a better choice. Some have wondered if the director culled more from the works of J.R.R Tolkien and Timothy Leary than from the Jews.

God’s Not Dead is evangelicalism’s answer to Noah, pitting its faithful-to-a-fault, Christian-American, teen apologist against the evil college professor in a battle of hermeneutics, which everyone knows is the most gripping plotline any moviegoer could possibly hope for. And yes, there are other subplots, but they all add up to what amounts to an evangelical snuff film, where the most anyone can long for in life is to get one’s “fire insurance” and avoid hell. Should have titled this God’s Not Dead, But You Will Be.

Son of God purports to be about the life of Jesus. I heard a rumor that Justin Beiber plays Jesus. Or is it Zach Efron? Being a wizened curmudgeon, I get my teen heartthrobs mixed up. I also hear they cut out the devil because he looked too much like our current president. Also purportedly, the filmmakers saved time and cash by filming this movie alongside the making of their made-for-TV pseudo-epic The Bible. I think from what I’ve written, you get an idea of how unchallenging this film is. That I can’t recall anyone from my church claiming to have seen it may be the most damning statement I can make about it.

What these three films tells us about the state of faith in America 2014 is that no one, especially Hollywood, has one lick of an idea what it means to be faithful in the every day. God exists at the periphery of life, relegated to weirdos or to the moment of death or to some milquetoast interpretation of “faith” that has nothing to do with the guy who wakes up in the morning and hopes to connect to God amid the daily commute, a pile of unpaid bills, and the American Dream. Perhaps the superhero love fest does have more say to us (heck, even God Is Not Dead features the actors who played Hercules and Superman).

The reality of faith in God that the Bible holds out to each one of us is that it IS relevant to the mundane day-to-day. No sacred/secular divide exists, and Christianity is filled to the brim with truth that suffuses every part of life, which is what makes it worth living. God isn’t just there in the flood. He’s not just there when we die. He’s not a cleverly marketed and filmed made-for-TV-but-shown-in-the-theaters side project. God intends to be there in everything we do and to give those activities meaning.

Henry David Thoreau said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. If these three “faith” movies were the only gauge to what faith in God is all about, I can understand that desperation.

Perhaps it’s not possible to encompass the richness of a life found in Christ and jam it into a two hours of screen time. Filmmakers will keep trying, though. And I suspect they will keep failing.

Perhaps we don’t know what a genuinely Christian life looks like in America 2014. Certainly, a lack of models is one reason. We’ve made strange alliances with worldliness and can no longer extricate that worldliness from truth. Sometimes, we even call evil good and good evil.

The God of the Bible offers abundant life. His word speaks to all parts of human existence. He is our God both when we are kneeling in church and when we’re sitting on the john. All of life, especially the middle we can’t seem to ascribe to Him, is filled with His Life.

How we make that true and real to most of us has yet to be filmed. Or in America 2014, lived.

Thanksgiving? Thank the Lord

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'The Healing of Ten Lepers' by James TissotOn this Thanksgiving, I will forgo commentary on the wickedness of keeping nonessential retail stores open this day or on the craziness of Black Friday. Instead, let’s consider this:

On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
—Luke 17:11-19 ESV

All our healing, all our hope, is found in Jesus. Not some, but all.

How can we not be thankful? How can we not be weeping with gratefulness?

More than anything I want my weeping to be in gratefulness to God for what He has given me despite my frailty, cravenness, and thoughts of self-worth. There is none worthy of those riches, not one. Not you. Not me.

I think much good would come if we Americans wept today because we are not worthy to have received all that we now possess. And it may be that unless we weep we may very well lose all those wonderful gifts because we have been so ungrateful, so unwilling to say that our own cleverness or resourcefulness has NOT gotten us those things apart from God’s mercy.

Don’t waste your thankfulness giving thanks to an ideal or a philosophy or your own talents. Give your thanks to the Lord. Be that tenth leper who was smart enough to know his source of blessing and come back to the feet of Jesus with praise and tears.

Lord, Purge Your Church

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It’s the early a.m. here and quiet as a tomb. That silence lends opportunity to think.

I’m pondering the state of the American Church. But then, I never stop.

We live in a world coming apart at the seams. Some say that’s not the case, but as I see it, the deterioration is clear. I wonder regularly how it is that all sense is missing from whichever brouhaha holds our attention this day.

It may not be much on the grander scale, but the fiasco surrounding last week’s notorious conference makes it clear genuine Christians must pray this:

Lord, purge Your Church.

If the Church in America is to have any influence at all on the larger culture and society of the United States, the dross must be removed.

Pray also that you are not the dross.

At this point in 2013, I’m fully convinced that the American Church is thinking too far ahead of itself if it continues to believe it can have such an influence. While the gates of hell cannot hold against the Church as a whole, no assurance is given for any one branch:

Ephesus in ruins

Ephesus in ruins

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
—Revelation 2:1-5 ESV

We could point to the vitality of the Ephesian Church and its contemporary influence on the world—if it were still around. But the Lord removed that Church’s lampstand and the light went out.

The American Church is at the lampstand-removal phase, if it hasn’t happened already. An opportunity to repent may still exist, but I wonder if it must come down to something more drastic than repentance.

Lord, purge Your Church.